With the Kiwis for Dinner


The following are note to my friends from a lecture tour to Wellington, New Zealand in the summer of 2002.

A few weeks ago Nancy and I dined atop the Reichstag with a grand view of Berlin and Norman Foster’s cupola. Last night the conference dinner was held in Wellington’s conference center overlooking the harbor. (Somewhere down below the French ambassador was addressing a Bastille Day dinner.) These Kiwis take their wine and their scotch seriously. I got out of there before another round of single-malt scotch. While it’s smooth going down, it does smell like a peat bog.

The conference center is linked to Wellington’s city council building and has a total of 17 venues. A modern building of glass, concrete, and decorative use of native New Zealand wood panels. The building as a whole is physcologically cold and without the warm tones of the wood panels and timbers it would be just another monument to an architect’s ego. But it works and is truly central. During the “tea breaks” I can just pop down to the cafe across the street and get a real cup of coffee.

We were all dutifully at the venue by 7.30 am to hear NZ’s energy minister. I could have staid in bed. After just being in Germany and hearing Juergen Trittin, Germany’s environment minister, give a stirring address on renewable energy (in English naturliche) there was just no comparison. The Aussies in the audience picked up on it too and just shook their heads. One, the Honorable (why he’s honorable I don’t know) Peter Raea even criticized the minister’s attitude during his own presentation shortly thereafter. Of course the Honorable Mr. Rae roundly criticised U.S. foreign policy. He isn’t some old leftist. He’s certainly no Greenie. He is a captain of industry: CEO of Hyrdo Tasmania, the largest industry in Tasmania and the very company paying for me to speak in Hobart. His position in a nutshell: we support the US’s war on terrorism, but the US turns it’s back on the world’s call for help in combatting global warming. Of course, then the moderator calls on me for the American response. . . but I won’t go there.

This conference reminds me of the early days of wind in the USA when there were only a handful of people. In one way I feel odd being here. NZ is way out here in the Pacific. They have no wind industry to speak of. The folks working in this field have been struggling for survival for years. Is this what it’s come to: speaking before small groups in forgotten corners of the globe? Oh well, I like the Kiwis, and I always learn something from these trips.

I am on again today. I close the conference. Then some go the rugby match, and the rest of us load into a van and head to Palmerston North to visit a wind farm.